September 30, 1995 - From the September, 1995 issue

L.A. Councilmember Chick: Neighborhood Planning Endorsed

The Planning Report presents an interview with Los Angeles Council member Laura Chick, who represents the West San Fernando Valley. She is currently Council Chair of the Public Safety Committee which oversees the Police, Fire, and Building and Safety Departments. She is also Vice-Chair of the Planning and Land Use Committee, which will soon take on the formidable task of examining the City's contentious General Plan Framework. 

“I look at the General Plan Framework… as a framework, an umbrella under which we can then add the details."

Laura, the General Plan Frame­work is moving through the legislative process and heading toward the Planning and Land Use Committee, of which you are a member. What are your thoughts about the issues that have been raised about its content and the likelihood of its adoption?

I'm carefully watching the plan's progress, because the General Plan Framework is something we need in the City. Yet I'm watching as holes arc punched through it. I'm concerned that when it comes before Council, we have the number of votes it needs to pass. 

I believe the Framework still needs some revision, some of which has been raised in The Planning Report. Some of the issues that I'm most concerned about are mixed-use, and whether or not it's going to be the primary method for providing the additional housing we need in this city; homeowner group concerns, and how that might play out in terms of votes; and reliance on rail as the primary form of transportation. 

There are going to be some hard questions that need to be asked in the Planning and Land Use Committee. Hopefully, some of those questions will be worked out in committee so we can present a plan that already has a consensus when we take it before the City Council. 

In your opinion, is there today, a sufficient level of interest and concern in the City Council about the importance and ramifications of the General Plan Framework? 

I haven't beard much discussion thus far. I do know that the City Council has a tradition of preferring to keep as much control within each Council office as possible. I'm anticipating that some of my colleagues may have concerns on that sense of territory. One of the articles I read in The Planning Report discussed how much is going to be left to the political process through the specific plans. I look at the General Plan Framework—and I think that it's appropriately named—as a framework, an umbrella under which we can then add the details. I don't see it as taking planning power away from the Council. I think the Framework provides guidelines; it should be our job to fine tune it from there. 

Let's turn to a related subject-the new Council committees. While you're continuing as Vice-Chair or the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, you are also the new Chair of Public Safety. There have been some major changes to composition of the Housing and Community Redevelopment Committee. What do those changes portend for reorganization of the City's housing functions and redevelopment? 

First of all, I remain optimistic that out of this we're going to get a viable and effective Economic Development Department. However, in the process of doing that, I do not want to see the CRA disemboweled and disempowered. I'm going to be watching the recommendations from the Community and Economic Development Committee carefully. 

I'm also concerned about the Housing Department. I'm going to be looking to the Housing and Community Redevelopment Committee to show that it values what the Housing Department does and to make sure that the Housing Department, if anything, gets strengthened and not weakened.

In terms of the Housing and Community Redevelopment Committee, I know there are a couple issues coming before the Public Safety Committee that have to do with the Housing Department, and I look forward to that partnership. I want to see the Housing Department strengthened; I consider it part of Public Safety. The Neighborhood Recovery Division is a key division. 

Development reform and how it has progressed over the last year is of great interest to TPR readers. What progress, in terms of accomplishing the Mayor's and Progress L.A. 's recommendations, do you foresee over the next year?

I think that we're doing very well so far. A majority of the recommendations have moved through committee and are in the process of being implemented. Part of this process is waiting for ordinances from the City Attorney's Office. A great many of the recommendations were in the form of Mayoral directives. The Committee turned these over to the City departments to make sure they are being implemented. 

I like what I have been hearing in Committee. I felt that I was hearing the General Managers buying into the process. The best part, although it's somewhat ironic, is that one of the things I have heard repeatedly is how well the General Managers are talking to each other, something that we would have taken for granted. 

We've concentrated more on Building & Safety, and I'm going to be revisiting that to make sure that we've taken a look at all the things that we've streamlined. I'm also not sure we have taken a critical enough look at the Bureau of Engineering in terms of the role it is playing, and how processes in the department sometimes get bogged down. I'm hearing some horror stories—delays as much as six months waiting for sign-offs in Bureau of Engineering. I want to make sure that's not the case. 

In terms of my feeling about what was discarded and what remained, I think we did a very good job of keeping intact protections for community involvement and for the public process. The emphasis was placed on the bureaucratic process, and I think we've done a very good job. 

On a related subject, do neighborhood planning councils work? Are they a model we should try to emulate throughout the City? 

Yes! I am thrilled with how well they're working in my district. First of all, I am finding that I am getting better informed and more sophisticated citizens participating, who are understanding more than just the simplistic aspect of proposals. Second, councils are a venue in which some of the down-sides and the negatives become apparent at the front end of a project. We are finding in some cases that project proposals are coming back to our Neighborhood Planning Council more than once, but on the second or third time, they're coming out of the Planning Council with a win-win proposal. Perhaps it's taken two to three months, but it can shorten the remainder of the process significantly. 

Developers are walking away from that, as I am, with some certainty that we've got something that makes sense for the community, the developer and the Council office. We are becoming increasingly successful in bringing in a wider range of constituents to the Planning Councils. The biggest down side is publicizing these meetings and getting all the stakeholders to come; we have occasional complaints from people who feel that they were not sufficiently notified. We're relying on the developer to do the notification. They’re doing a satisfactory job and we're improving the process of how they go about doing it.

I think that when we started out we had some misunderstandings on the part of the members about what their role was going to be. They were upset when I wasn't following their instructions. We don't have that problem anymore. They absolutely understand that they're advisory only; however, I think the important thing is that they know why I'm disagreeing with them when I disagree. 

We have put a lot of hard work in choosing the membership on the committee. We were looking for people with at least the ability to have a broad perspective and see the whole picture. 

Third, we spent a lot of time orienting and training people. In my conversations with members who have come to me because they've been upset, or when I've gone to committee meetings, we stress the larger picture. We have more sophisticated members because we are turning people into urban planners through this experience. 

You have a redevelopment area within your district—Canoga Park, Resecla and Winnetka. In light of Councilman Feuer's dedsion to pull back from a CRA commitment in his district, what are your thoughts about the role CRA plays in your district both past, present, and future? 


I'm pleased to have them working with me in my district. I'm very aware of past problems associated with the CRA, and I will be vigilant to see that the problems don't occur in my district There’s no reason for me to think this isn't going to be successful. Again, we've taken great care in appointing our Community Advisory Council (CAC), and a lot of the members were people who worked on the proposal for the redevelopment area. 

We spent a lot of time making sure that we and our members do not have unrealistic expectations. My biggest concern is making sure that decisions are not made by CRA staff unless they have been brought previously to the CAC, where there's involvement on the part of that committee. Regrettably, we've had one little glitch that served as an example of how this can happen, and CRA staff now better understands our expectation. 

The 5th Council District however, had a very, very different set of circumstances, and I look at the CRA as one tool in a tool chest. I do not expect the CRA to come and turn around the 

whole Sherman Way corridor. But I do think they're going to bring positive things to the equation. 

You've been involved with the Nuisance Properties Task Force: what is that task force trying to accomplish, how successful has it been? 

I will be bringing the report to the Public Safety Committee that I now chair. I want to strategize in terms of how we bring the report to Committee, because there are a whole series of issues. What I particularly like about the report is that it's a full continuum look at nuisance abatement 

Additionally, the Public Safety Committee will be looking at such things as how the City can help property managers do a better job managing so problems don't develop. We need to look very seriously at the Building and Safety component: how do we fund the kinds of inspections that need to be happening to make sure problems don't get out of hand? What can the City do, in a more expedient way, to take problem properties out of the owner's hands, and what do we do with the properties?

I want to make sure that when I bring this proposal to committee we handle it in an organized fashion so that none of the pieces get lost or separated, which would disrupt this continuum approach to the problem. 

You have been supporting a Home Occupations Ordinance. Why?

Many people want to operate a home occupation or already do. However, the way this ordinance is taking shape in order to pass through Council is not necessarily the shape that the home occupations advocates want. While I believe the City needs this ordinance, I'm not sure how optimistic I am about its success. 

There are homeowner organizations that are very nervous that this ordinance is going to destroy the sanctity of single-family home neighborhoods, something that in my last dying breath I would fight to avoid. I don't agree with them that this is what is actually happening. There are also City department staff who are opposed, and feel that, although there are many home occupations going on now, by creating an ordinance, we're opening up a proverbial can of worms. 

The big concern seems to be on enforcement, which I find rather amusing. We're not enforcing now, so why should we be particularly concerned about enforcement? I believe my proposed ordinance is something that might be able to pass Council. This ordinance does not allow any outside employees; it does not allow any client visits. The ordinance would permit the electronic and telecommuting-type businesses inside a home as long as they do not have any adverse external impacts. I think it's a common-sense approach, and one that could lay the foundation; if we see that it works, we could expand it. Is it going to pass? I don't know. First, I have to get it to through PLUM. I'm not giving up. 

Out of 88 cities in the County, 77 have a home-occupation ordinance. By not implementing this, LA is missing an engine of growth, and does not want to get on board. I don't know what kind of message that is sending. You can't open a newspaper without hearing about home-based electronic business. 

There are many positives: it's family-friendly; it's environmental friendly; it helps create entrepreneurship; it's positive for women-owned businesses; and it has the possibility of bringing in additional revenue. 

There is a lot of cynicism about government in Los Angeles and California. You're a veteran now in electoral politics. What, in your opinion, are the possibilities for the City as you look forward to the next two years? What can we do together? 

We can do a lot in the next few years. We can be clear about what we see the problems to be and make sure our view of the problems is complimentary with the public's perception of the problems. That is done simply by paying attention and listening to the community. We need to then turn around and make sure that our actions are responding to those problems and moving towards real solutions. How can we get the will to do that? I think that the priorities are very clear.

I have watched government come up with more non-solutions than solutions. If we keep doing that, the public would be completely justified in trying to throw every one of us out of office. 

An example: We need to start having dialogue about how the County budget crisis and impending changes are going to affect City services, and what plans are we making to deal with it. 

We can't say that it's someone else's problem anymore. I have been saying for two years that I would like to see the City Council come out with a very clear mission statement and a short-term strategy plan that prioritizes goals and objectives. We must hold ourselves accountable and show the public that we have achieved our goals and objectives at the end of two years. 

Lastly, are we likely to have Council meetings in other parts of the City in the near future? What's the road block? 

I don't think that alternate sites for City Council meetings can do anything but help. That's why I introduced a motion to hold a San Fernando Valley Council meeting on Tuesday, October 17, at Pierce College. Additionally, Councilman Feuer has proposed holding quarterly City Council meetings on the road, but my motion was the only one to pass, regrettably. The Council expressed concern about costs. I think it costs something like $7,000 to $12,000 to hold a meeting outside City Hall; a few well-run, productive meetings throughout the City would go a long way toward improving the City Council communication and bring government closer to the public it represents.


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